a road shaped like a spine

Vacations and Road Trips With AS

Editor's note: While this article was written prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are hitting the road for travel this summer instead of flying on airplanes. If you're taking a road trip, be sure to wear your mask and wash your hands often, especially at rest stops!

How does driving 1,800 miles in 8 days work out when you have ankylosing spondylitis?  As it turns out, the car trip was not too bad. Such as it was this a few months ago when Sheryl and I set out in our car for a trip to Florida. We were not going far enough south to catch the warm weather; instead, we had decided to visit the panhandle in preparation for and as a way to kill some time before my spinal surgery in March. We knew we would not get the warmth we both wanted, but a good break seemed appropriate.

We had an excellent time along the way, but we followed some basic rules. (Note: most of these are Sheryl’s rules so I cannot take credit for all of them).

Rule 1: Do not try to do too much in one day

This is one thing we practice as retirees anyway, so it is essential in our approach to life.  We (I really mean I) do occasionally try to do too much on any given day. But for the most part, we try to take things as they come. In the case of our trip, I set the halfway point both coming and going as an overnight. Each way, we stopped in Alabama and spent the night.  So instead of trying to do 750 miles in one day, we did more like 400 miles at the longest.

Stopping just made our journey more comfortable. We plan to arrive each night by 6:00 PM, and that left time for dinner some exercise in the hotel gym and television. The downside was we had to lug the luggage (notice the lug the bags, I love that) around between the car and the room. But it was worth it overall to stop and rest. I think in my youthful days, I might have tried this in one day. But with a back and neck that hurts almost constantly, I never would have made it. So we stopped.

Rule 2: Use what is offered to assist you

I have always known the benefits of the luggage cart at hotels, and we certainly used those carts on this trip. During the eight days, we stayed in four hotels. Two coming and going, one near Pensacola, Florida, and one in Mobile, Alabama. That was four times we loaded and unloaded the car. While those carts were not always easy to use, they were much better than hauling the luggage in by hand even once.

Likewise, we always chose to use accessible parking spaces if we could. No need to be a hero; there are no extra points for crawling to the front door. If the accommodation was offered, we used it. After all, who would I be trying to impress by being an AS hero? Trust me, the only person I needed to impress was Sheryl, and she was over being impressed with me crawling around because I did something foolish.

Rule 3: Sleep in

We did not see and do everything we might have wanted on our trip. The Naval Air Museum in Pensacola was closed, so that was a bust, and it was terribly foggy one day so that ruined our idea for watching a sunset on the pier, but we still got what we came for, namely having a small trip, a chance to get away. No need to be upset that we missed something; if we want to see it, we will return someday. We had a good time no matter.

Rule 4: Take your medication

This is important. I take methotrexate weekly, and when I do, I lose most of the next day to sleep. When we are on vacation, this means I have to pick my day. I usually take methotrexate on Wednesday evening and then sleep Thursday morning. This works out well for our schedule at home and as much as possible; I like to keep that schedule. I can vary the dose by a day or two one way or the other, but if I do, I am going to be dragging around for a day or two until I get back on schedule. So we need a big reason to change the day I take it. 

On this particular trip, we kept the routine, and I took methotrexate on Wednesday evening. So Thursday morning, we were at the hotel. We sacrificed the morning. This means we still got out in the afternoon, and I even got to visit the USS Alabama and the associated museum. Could I have spent more time there if I had not taken methotrexate that morning? Yes, no doubt. But what shape would I have been in for the journey home? Not very good, I wager.

Rule 5: Have fun

The whole point of going is to have fun. So no matter what mode or traveling you are doing, having fun is paramount. But fun is not pushing so hard you cannot see or do those unique things you want to do. These days we tend to pick one thing we want to see or do per day. It is a slow pace, and it is reflective of our general lifestyle. 

Road trips with ankylosing spondylitis can be done!

I can say that five years ago, I would have been upset feeling like my health was holding us back. But I have gotten over it. Today I am much calmer about not seeing or doing everything. I am far better able to keep in mind the reason we went in the first place. Namely, we wanted to spend time together. It was the best Valentine’s week of all the 43 we have enjoyed as a couple.

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